Is this car safe to drive?

I have a '97 Volvo 850 Station Wagon with 156,000 miles. Bought it used in 2001. About 3 weeks ago, I was driving about 35 mph, going up to 45, when out of nowhere, with no warning, the car just shut down. Lost power steering, brakes everything! I stopped by using the hand brake but was still on the road, as there was no place to pull off and the steering was so difficult. I immediately tried to start the car but absolutely nothing happened. After about 2 - 3 minutes of waving traffic by so I wouldn’t get hit, I tried starting the car again and it started up, no problem.

I drove home and turned it off and started it again numerous times to see what would happen. Every time, it started. My husband and I decided to have it towed to the mechanic, as we felt it was too dangerous to drive. They kept it for 2 days, but the problem never reoccured. They decided to replace 2 of the original relays (Volvo part no. 9434225 Fuel-Pump Controller and no. 3 545 803 12V 40A) in hopes that one of these caused the problem. They cannot assure us that the spontaneous shutting down on the road will not happen again.

Now it’s 3 weeks later and my husband has been driving the car, alone, daily, and there have not been any problems. I, however, am very reluctant to put kids in the car, or myself for that matter.

After speaking to the mechanic, he said about 1 in 200 cars of this model do this after about 10 years. Sometimes these relays fix it, sometimes not. Sometimes the problem will reoccur and they’ll replace some more parts. Then the problem will reoccur again and again over time, each time, replaceing more parts, but never being able to pin point the problem since it doesn’t happen while the car is in the shop.

My question: is this car safe to drive? Is it safe to put kids in? Do you know the true statistics about the probability of this problem happeneing again, now that those 2 relays have been replaced?

Thanks so much!


The dealer is correct. However, in any car there is never the absolute assurance that it will keep running. If a timing belt breaks, etc, you are not going any further. This is more of a peace of mind issue. Having an absolute brand new car does not guarantee it will start and keep going, just gives you a higher probability (in most cases) and that feel good feeling that it can’t break cause its new.


Chances are good it’s safe to drive it. You should realize that even if it’s not running you can steer it, and steering it is easier while it is rolling. If it stalls while running do NOT turn the key back and forth to try and start it again right away, as you could easily turn it off and thus lock the steering wheel. If it stalls your FIRST job is to get it out of traffic, and that means steering it to the side of the road. Stopping is second on the list. Stay off the brakes until you are where you want to stop. Unfortunately most people react to this sort of event by stamping on the brakes and trying to start the car. It won’t start because it’s in Drive. Nothing will happen. And you might get hit from behind. So rehearse this in your mind. If the engine stalls, steer it off the roadway first, stop it second, turn on the four way flashers, take a big deep breath and be thankful you got that far OK, then put it in neutral or Park and try to start it.

On the other hand, if you can no longer trust the car, sell it. Your confidence is important, and it has nothing to do with the logic of a bunch of amateur mechanics.

Although more difficult to steer and brake with the engine dead it should not be impossible…

And as stated above a new car is not immune from similar failures. I have a 1949 Frigidaire(General Motors) refrigerator running continuosly (except for routine defrosting) for all these years in my home shop. I have replaced refrigerators in the kitchen many times with the newest and best but they can’t compare to that old hulk which has beer and leftover chicken salad in it now.

The car is 11 years old and there’s a good chance the fuel pump is on the way out. A fuel pump can be and on again/off again type of thing and not set a computer code.
When was the last time the fuel filter was replaced? A partially clogged filter can lead to premature pump failure.

I would also point out that a failing fuel pump can also be the reason why, and if, those relays were defective. It’s possible these guys were just guessing here.

You should drop by a local AutoZone, Checkers, Advanca Auto, etc. and have them pull the codes. They will do this for you absolutely free. Post any results back here for further discussion.

I would like to add that any car with power accessories like your car will be just as hard to navigate if the engine failed. The car is not impossible to maneuver and brake, but quite a bit harder. The power steering pump is no longer pumping, and the wheel will be very hard to turn. The engine is no longer drawing a vacuum, so the vacuum-boosted power brakes no longer have power. You should familiarize yourself to these conditions, because they can happen in ANY MODERN CAR with power steering and power brakes. Once the engine dies, you need to be able to get it off the road safely, no matter what.

I’m not familiar with Volvo’s, so I cannot speak to your specific problem. But, if the Check Engine light is not on, I would have the fuel system inspected. The fuel system is not generall monitored by the computer, except for fuel injector operation. Pressure and delivery problems may not set off a trouble code.

  1. at 35mph a car is not hard to steer with no power steering. Next time, coast to a safe stopping place and stop there.

  2. put a couple of collapsible reflective road triangles in your trunk. You can get 'em from just about any auto parts store. Sometimes they come as part of an emergency kit with road flares, which are also good to set up. Visibility, visibility, visibility.

  3. in all this did anyone check the battery clamp? If it’s loose, it can break the electrical connection and when that happens, the car shuts off. A while later it might make contact again as it cools down, and you can start the car again.

Get a better car if you don’t trust that one. It is never going to stop acting up.